Iraq’s vice president has accused United Nations weapons inspectors of spying for the US and Israel, after a surprise inspection of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.
Taha Yassin Ramadan also accused the inspectors of staging the intrusion into the presidential palace on Tuesday as a provocation that could lead to war.
“Their work is to spy to serve the CIA and Mossad [Israel’s intelligence service],” Ramadan told a visiting delegation of Egyptian professionals, in language reminiscent of clashes with inspectors in the 1990s.
Ramadan, known for his fiery statements, cited only years-old accounts of US agents within the inspection agency of the 1990s, offering no evidence.
He claimed to his all-Arab audience that the inspectors went to the palace hoping to provoke the Iraqis into refusing them entrance – something he said would be interpreted as a “material breach” of the UN resolution that mandated the inspections, and a cause for war.
The resolution includes “several landmines”, Ramadan said, “and the aim is that one of them will go off”.
The UN insisted its inspectors were independent.
“Clearly we are there to work for the Security Council,” said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for chief UN inspector Hans Blix. “We are not there to work for member states, and Dr Blix has made it clear to the Iraqis and also publicly that if he finds anybody working for governments then he would immediately fire them.”
Responding to Iraqi protests over the palace inspection, a UN official said the inspectors were taking the right approach – navigating between Iraqi complaints and US pressure for more “severe” inspections. And, said inspections team leader Demetrius Perricos, “we are getting results”.
Among other things, Perricos reported that on a five-hour inspection of a desert installation yesterday, his experts secured a dozen Iraqi artillery shells – previously known to be there – that were loaded with a powerful chemical weapon, the agent for mustard gas. It was the first report of such armaments traced and controlled in the week-old round of new inspections.
The inspections resumed last week after a four-year suspension, under a new security council resolution requiring Iraq to surrender any remaining weapons of mass destruction and shut down any programs to make them.
After a week of searches, the inspectors planned a break today, the start of the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A critical deadline approaches this weekend for the Baghdad government. On Saturday, it is expected to submit a declaration to the United Nations on any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as on nuclear, chemical and biological programmes it says are peaceful.
The US administration of President George Bush says Baghdad retains some chemical and biological weapons- missed during 1990s inspections – and has not abandoned plans for nuclear weapons. Washington threatens to go to war against Iraq if, in the US view, it does not co-operate in the disarmament effort.
The Iraqi government maintains it no longer holds such weapons and will say so in the declaration.
The inspectors’ new mandate toughens their powers to search anywhere, any time in Iraq for signs of prohibited armaments. They took advantage of that authority on Tuesday to demand and receive quick entry to the opulent al-Sajoud palace in Baghdad, one of dozens of palaces built by Saddam during his 23-year rule.